Here’s What You Need to Know About Epigenetics
Have you ever heard the phrase, “you are what you eat?” It’s not just a phrase dietitians use to scare you into eating healthy. It’s a true statement! Think about it this way: are there some foods that make you feel sluggish throughout the day if you eat them? For us, sugary foods tend to give one fleeting moment of satisfaction before taking us on a first-class trip to slump-town all afternoon.
You may know that foods can affect how you feel, but did you know that your nutrition may actually affect your DNA? That’s right! What types of foods you put in your body can change your genes and DNA. Science is learning more and more about this phenomena, while it’s been widely taught in the holistic health field for years.
What Is Epigenetics?
Okay, you see that scary-looking word and immediately want to run the other way.. Don’t worry! Epigenetics is a simple concept at its core - it is the branch of study explores genes and how we can alter their expression. In plain English: epigenetics studies what flips some genes on and off. Specifically, this field of study explores what genes you inherit from your parents.
What’s interesting is not only do we have the power to turn genes on and off, but our parents have the power to do that for us before we’re even alive. Crazy, right?
To demonstrate, we’re going to use this example:
Hypothetical Case Study: The Anderson’s vs Smith’s
Let’s hypothetically assume we have two sets of parents: we’ll call one the Andersons and the others, the Smiths. Let’s focus on the Anderson’s first.
Both Anderson parents smoked all the time prior to having children. You probably already know that smoking is associated with negative health concerns. Because of their choice to smoke, their children may face repercussions when they are born. Why? Because nicotine can affect what genes are actively passed on from parent to child, including a gene making it more likely for those children to become smokers themselves (1). For example, it is believed that smoking can turn off the genes that help the body block out cancerous cells. (2)
Now, let’s take a look at the Smiths. The Smith parents do not smoke. Instead, they are total health-nuts. They like to hit the gym and stock up on their favorite green veggies at the market. How do you think their children’s DNA will compare to the Andersons? Their children are more likely to have “good” genes turned on. (3)
Now, here’s where things get more interesting!
You see, the Andersons may have altered their children’s DNA by smoking; HOWEVER, that DNA can still change over time. Their child can grow up and live a healthy life, eating veggies and exercising. Guess what could happen!? They could change their genetic make-up with nutrition, healing some of the damage created by their parents.